Qualifying Conditions Medical Marijuana

Treating Cancer-Related Symptoms with Medical Marijuana

¡The revolution of medical marijuana! According to Cancer Statistics 2022, a scientific paper published in the American Cancer Society Journal, it is estimated that 1.9 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2022. If you look at the figures by state, Texas places third (about 139 thousand new cases in 2022) in the ranking of highest incidence of new cases after California and Florida.

A cancer diagnosis and the steps that follow can be the source of physical, emotional and mental distress, and this is why it requires a comprehensive approach when planning the course of treatment. Usually patients follow a treatment that combines the use of traditional medication with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and/or surgery as well as counseling. But sometimes, traditional medicine fails to achieve the objective it was meant to fulfill or its side effects are intolerable; this is one of the reasons why more and more patients are turning to medical marijuanas to find relief from their symptoms and it has been reported that 24% to 40% of cancer patients in the US use marijuana for this purpose.

Can medical cannabis cure cancer? How can medical marijuana improve the patient’s experience? Is weed legal in Texas now? Find the answers to these questions and more below.

Can medical marijuana cure cancer? 

Several studies have found that cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant might slow the growth of cancer cells and potentially reduce the spread of certain forms of cancer. Results however vary depending on the type of cancer and the ratio of combination of different cannabinoids, and some are limited to lab tests with animals, not human patients. 

Although the findings are encouraging, there isn’t enough scientific evidence that cannabis alone could help cure cancer and therefore it is generally not recommended as the sole treatment for the condition. Despite the fact that a majority of US states have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes at the state level, the US government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level, which poses a material challenge for researchers to be able to conduct studies, deterring a more comprehensive scientific study of cannabinoids and their impact as a treatment option to cure cancer.

So, if you were wondering: “Does weed cure cancer?” The answer is “maybe, maybe not, we don’t have enough information” but several studies as well as empiric evidence show that it definitely helps alleviate some of the symptoms caused directly by the condition as well as more than one cancer treatment side effect that affects a patient’s healing journey. 

How can medical marijuana improve the patient’s experience?

The benefits of the use of medical marijuana by cancer patients are numerous and in some cases they can dramatically improve the patients’ quality of life. Medical cannabis can help manage cancer symptoms and it also helps manage many side effects caused by cancer treatments and traditional medication. Let’s take a look at specific examples:

Medical cannabis for pain management: pain is one of the most frequent symptoms among cancer patients regardless of where they are in their healing journey. As a matter of fact, a study published in the Journal of The National Comprehensive Cancer Network indicated that “pain was reported in 59% of patients undergoing cancer treatment, in 64% of patients with advanced disease, and in 33% of patients after curative treatment.”

Pain is also one of the toughest symptoms to deal with because of its intensity and many patients’ inability to respond well to traditional pain medication. It also creates additional symptoms like pain-induced insomnia and fatigue, which in turn increase anxiety and depression among cancer patients. This is why the ability to manage pain in these patients makes an enormous difference in their quality of life.

Opioids are frequently used to manage this condition but in many cases they are either not effective or they cause intolerable side effects. Several studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids CBD and THC present in medical cannabis have highly effective anti inflammatory and analgesic effects that help manage pain, but don’t present the same undesirable side effects inherent to opioids. Each year more and more patients looking for relief from pain (whether cancer-related or not) are turning to medical marijuana to manage this symptom, and many report a significant reduction of opioid medication use. 

Medical cannabis to manage nausea and vomiting: cancer-related complications can induce nausea and vomiting, yet some treatments used to battle the disease cause the same effects in many patients (particularly chemotherapy), resulting in a compounding of the issue. Cannabinoids have proven to be very effective at managing these symptoms, and actually two synthetic cannabinoids (Dronabinol and Nabilone) are approved by the FDA to treat chemo-related nausea and vomiting. Other forms of medical marijuana can be available to cancer patients who live in states that have adopted a medical marijuana program and who are experiencing non-chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. 

Medical cannabis as neuropathy treatment: neuropathy (the sensation of weakness, tingling, burning or numbness due to damage of the nerves outside the brain and the spinal cord) is a very common cancer treatment side effect, especially from chemotherapy. Empirical evidence demonstrates that cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant can interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system which are responsible for pain management. Cannabinoids’ interaction with these receptors is thought to help reduce pain by modifying cellular events that result in sprouting of pain-sensitive nerve endings as well as by inhibiting the release of pain conduction along the peripheral nervous system, making of medical cannabis a highly effective neuropathy treatment option.

Medical cannabis for appetite and weight loss: one of the cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant, THC, is thought to be effective at stimulating the appetite and therefore a good alternative not only to treat appetite suppression but also weight loss, particularly in patients with advanced cancer. After pain and nausea, appetite is the third most frequent physical symptom prompting cancer patient’s to use medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis to treat cancer-related neuropsychiatric symptoms: as we mentioned initially, cancer patients deal with more than physical symptoms. They can also experience neuropsychiatric symptoms (anxiety, depression, insomnia) derived from the physical impact that the disease or its subsequent treatment have, not to mention the diagnosis itself. In fact, a study found that use of cannabis for management of neuropsychiatric symptoms (63%) was almost as prevalent as its use for management of physical symptoms (75%); regardless of the nature of the symptoms, 51% of respondents considered that the use of medical cannabis provides major benefits while 39% thought it provides moderate benefits.

If you were wondering “is weed legal in Texas now?”, the answer is “regular weed is not but medical cannabis prescribed by a licensed provider and sold by an authorized dispensary for use treating qualified conditions is.”  Texas approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2015 with the implementation of the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP); but it wasn’t until 2019 that the program was expanded to include terminal cancer as one of the qualifying conditions, and in 2021 a new expansion included all stages of cancer allowing access to thousands of patients. 

When asked about the use of medical marijuana to help treat cancer-related symptoms, Dr Matthew Brimberry, Texas Cannabis Clinic’s medical director affirms: “Medical Cannabis should be considered as a first choice, not a last resort.” This is particularly true for symptoms such as chronic pain where the benefits of incorporating medical cannabis have widely been proven. When it comes to helping cancer patients, Dr Brimberry says “Our goal is to relieve suffering” and that is exactly what the team at Texas Cannabis Clinic has been able to do for our patients.

If you suffer from cancer and are considering incorporating the use of medical cannabis to your ongoing treatment, we are here to help.